A developer wants to fill a long-vacant spot in Stamford town centre. The neighbors are fighting to keep it vacant.

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STAMFORD — Plans to fill empty land in Stamford’s developing town center have been dead on the vine for decades. But this week, for the first time, a plan for the plot on the corner of Broad Street and Greyrock Place was presented to the zoning board.

Local luxury developer RMS Companies – which built the University of Connecticut-Stamford’s downtown dorms and executed a sweeping renovation of Hartford’s historic The Goodwin Hotel – wants to put 228 new apartments and 8,000 square feet of office space on the long vacant lot. The proposal received praise from Stamford business leaders, who called it a prime opportunity for “ground floor activation” without building more retail space.

However, tenants of a nearby condominium complex have strongly opposed the new apartments, citing traffic and the loss of their quality of life.

A new life for an old idea

Before the corner of Broad and Greyrock became the home of trees and grass, land records show it was home to the Girls Club, a non-profit club dedicated to supporting young women. Before that, there was a gas station. Even earlier there were houses on the property. More recently it has been closed off from the general public as attempts to construct new buildings have repeatedly fizzled out.

“In real estate, timing is everything,” Richard Redniss of Redniss and Mead Land Surveyors told the lawyer. Redniss’ firm represents RMS Companies in its attempt to develop the downtown area. And the timing, according to Redniss, never worked out due to a combination of “the owner wanting to sell and the buyer getting potential approvals.”

In front of the city’s zoning board and the public last week, Redniss went through a series of unfinished plans for the land. He showed a 10-story mockup with gabled roofs and balconies lining the second story. A later design pioneered a more modern look, with sleek sides and colorful panels facing the adjoining streets. At one point, Redniss showed a larger plan involving one of the plot’s neighbors.

“We’ve worked on this property on and off for decades,” he said to underscore his point. “Literally decades.”

When Stamford’s downtown Special Services District was first created, the group encouraged potential developers to create a ‘continuous pedestrian streetscape’ along Broad Street, which is only ‘one block from the heart of downtown.

RMS Company CEO Randy Salvatore has pledged to move his own offices into the proposed structure, in addition to the proposed 61 studios, 88 one-bedroom apartments and 79 two-bedroom apartments. Six floors of majority residential space would sit on two floors of parking hidden from view of the street. Instead of retail, the developer said he wanted to put amenities along the road to encourage pedestrian activity without more shops.

Stamford’s DSSD renewed its support for the Broad and Greyrock plan; the streetscape design earned high marks from the city’s Chamber of Commerce and the building’s potential neighbors, Hibernians Hall.

“These changes will pave the way for continued revitalization of the city, bringing additional residential apartments to support this vibrant urban downtown,” said Heather Cavanagh, Speaker of the Chamber.

“If we are to have neighbors, I would like them to be good neighbors,” added Hibernian secretary Mary Laurie. “I believe this development will be a good neighbor, and that’s very important to us.”

Critics worry about the adequacy of the community

As community leaders celebrated the proposal as a victory for downtown development, neighbors urged council to cancel the project as proposed. Some of the most notable rejections came from residents of The Classic, a condominium located behind the possible development.

Residents argued that a shared access driveway on Broad Street would create intense pressure on the road for pedestrians and motorists. Other Stamford residents have decried the loss of trees on the property, calling it an “atrocity” that goes against the principles of the city’s master plan. The document calls for the protection, management and expansion of “urban forests”.

“A literal urban forest will be demolished if this plan is approved,” The Classic resident Janet Roemer told the board. Roemer also noted that the proposed building would be significantly larger than the properties currently lining the corridor.

In turn, Redniss called criticism against the proposal “ironic” for a property planned for the bustling heart of the city, especially given the height of the nearby Landmark Building and even the Classic itself. Redniss also pointed out that the developer has agreed to work with the city to improve pedestrian infrastructure on the surrounding street, primarily by shortening crosswalks across the road.

Council specifically requested more information on potential traffic conditions at Forest Street and Greyrock Place at its next meeting. After an hour of discussions, the zoning council chose to continue the debate until its next meeting, scheduled for July 12.

veronica.delvalle@hearstmediact.com


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